With the European dream over after losing 3-2 to Real Madrid in March 1980, there was still a title to be won.
To bolster the attack, Billy had finally managed to sign a striker, Frank McGarvey joining from Liverpool for a club record fee of £250,000. He made his debut the following night against his old club St Mirren at Celtic Park, a game where Celts continued the worrying trend of throwing away a winning lead, this time two late goals from McGarvey’s Love Street replacement, Doug Somner, salvaging an unlikely point for the visitors.
The next match, on the Saturday at Rugby Park, produced yet another draw, Celtic’s eighth in sixteen games. However, this time it was our turn to rescue a point with a late goal, substitute Lennox blasting the equaliser in 86 minutes, Celts having trailed since the opening seconds.
Following the defeat in Madrid, the Bhoys finally got back to winning ways, with home victories over Hibernian and Rangers. Four second-half goals, including a first strike for Frank McGarvey, put paid to a poor Hibs side, heading for the drop even with the great George Best.
The following Wednesday, McGarvey was on target again, his late header from an Aitken cross being the decisive moment, as Celts surged seven points clear of Aberdeen, with Morton and St Mirren a further point behind. The Dons did have a game in hand of Celtic and would be the next visitors to Parkhead that coming Saturday, surely the last-chance saloon for them.
There were 40,000 fans in the old ground for what would prove a pivotal day in the title race. Aberdeen struck first, through Jarvie, Doyle heading Celtic level within minutes. The winning goal came on the hour, McGhee taking advantage of a kind break in the box to fire home.
Substitute Bobby Lennox, who had replaced the concussed McAdam in the first half, had a glorious chance to level the match on 68 minutes, however his weak spot kick was easily saved by Clark and the Dons were back in business, five points behind having played one game less.
Bad turned to worse three nights later at Tannadice, as three second-half goals consigned the defending champions to a heavy and costly defeat. Aberdeen duly beat Dundee to move just three points behind and what had looked like a procession to the title for Celtic was suddenly looking much more ominous.
There was some respite the following midweek, as goals in the first minute of each half gave Celtic a badly-needed win at home to Kilmarnock. The same night, Aberdeen dropped a point at home to lowly Hibernian, enabling the Bhoys’ lead to stretch to four points.
However, both joy and the lead would be short-lived. On the Saturday, Celts travelled to Dens Park, an early Aitken goal giving us the perfect start. Then the roof caved in, as Dundee, who would be relegated the next week, responded with five on a sickening day for the large Celtic support in the ground. Another penalty miss, this time from Murdo MacLeod, merely added to the misery, an Aberdeen win at Kilmarnock bringing them to within two points of Celtic, still with that precious game in hand and a second Parkhead visit in April to come that midweek.
A virtual title-decider brought a near-50,000 crowd to Celtic Park on the Wednesday night. The majority were silenced early on, as Archibald struck again for the Dons with a close-range finish. Two minutes later, Celtic levelled through a penalty, earned and scored by McCluskey. Latchford then saved a Strachan spot kick before the game’s key moment, a free header for McGhee in first-half stoppage time and Celtic were on the ropes.
The game was over on the hour mark, as Strachan made up for his earlier miss by capitalising on a Latchford error, the big Englishman dropping a cross at his feet for 3-1. A fourth defeat in five games saw Aberdeen finally go top on goal difference, as the title won so spectacularly against the odds the previous May was being conceded with a whimper.
There would be a final act of defiance from Cesar’s Champions, with back-to-back wins against Partick Thistle and Dundee edging them a single point ahead with just one fixture remaining.
However, with an additional match to play, Aberdeen had the title to lose and a hunger and momentum which suggested that this would not be the outcome. On the Saturday it was all over, Celts drawing a blank at Love Street whilst Ferguson’s Dons went nap at Easter Road, securing a first title in twenty-five years and ensuring that the Championship would reside outside Glasgow for the first time since Waddell’s Kilmarnock pipped Hearts at Tynecastle, back in April 1965.